Buckeyes bulldoze Irish
Cooper says 'It doesn't get much better' than a 29-16 win at ND
By Tim May
The Columbus Dispatch
Sunday, September 29, 1996
SOUTH BEND, Ind. - John Cooper held the game ball high so everyone could see.
It had just been presented to him by his Ohio State football team late yesterday afternoon in honor of his 150th victory. Cooper was about to give it back.
His fourth-ranked Buckeyes had just spanked fifth-ranked Notre Dame 29-16 in Notre Dame Stadium. They had evened an age-old score, tying the short-lived series between the traditional college football titans at 2-2, with no renewal in sight.
''I told our squad this is a great victory for the Ohio State football program,'' Cooper said. ''It doesn't get much better. There aren't many teams . . . who come in here, in this environment, and beat an outstanding Notre Dame football team.''
History aside, the Buckeyes answered the question that had dogged them in the wake of their season-opening blitzes of Rice and Pittsburgh. Were they that good?
Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz had an answer, at least after yesterday.
''The better football team won the game,'' he said.
On the scoreboard and the stat sheet, the Buckeyes dominated. With Pepe Pearson running for 173 yards and two touchdowns, and catching two passes for 42 yards, they outgained the Fighting Irish 391-280. They rushed for 206 and passed for 185.
''I think we answered a lot of questions,'' said junior quarterback Stanley Jackson, who had to leave the game late because of a mild knee sprain.
''People wanted to know if our offense was good enough to score points against a good defense. I think we proved that today.
''And our defense is just outstanding. They came out and played real good today.''
The defense held the vaunted Notre Dame running game to 126 yards. And it befuddled and punished Notre Dame quarterback Ron Powlus with an all-out blitzing attack, the likes seldom seen from an Ohio State team.
Holtz, who watched his team fall to the Buckeyes for the second straight year, concurred.
He said a 90-yard punt return by Autry Denson for an apparent Notre Dame touchdown with 3:35 left would have given his team hope, but it was called back because of a holding penalty. Otherwise, he gave credit where it was due.
''This is as good a team as we've played for a while,'' Holtz said.
''This was an excellent Ohio State team, and particularly when they do a lot of things you aren't prepared for. But I give them credit. They're allowed to do that.
''If they can play the way they did today, and control the line of scrimmage like that, they can go a long way.''
There was no doubt about the Buckeyes' intent yesterday, Cooper said.
''I think our kids came in here on a mission,'' he said. ''And they got it done, from the opening kickoff on.''
Dimitrious Stanley's 85-yard return of that kick, to the Notre Dame 13, set it in motion. Four plays later, Pearson had his first TD, on a 3-yard run.
The extra point was botched by a high snap, a sign of the tough times to come for the kicking game, but the statement had been made. Even as Notre Dame converted a turnover - an interception of a batted pass by Jackson - into a 15-yard TD drive in the first quarter, the game had developed a positive feel for the Buckeyes.
That was manifested by the next possession, a seven-play, 80-yard drive in which every down was a first down, except for a 25-yard pass from Jackson to a diving John Lumpkin on second-and-11 from the Notre Dame 27. On the next play, Jackson hit wide-open Matt Calhoun for the 2-yard TD pass, and the Buckeyes, who failed on a two-point try, were ahead for good at 12-7.
Backup quarterback Joe Germaine drove them to a 24-yard field goal by Josh Jackson with 3:52 left in the second quarter. Then came the crusher, at least in the mind of OSU offensive coordinator Joe Hollis: a six-play 84-yard drive led by Jackson.
''The biggest point for us offensively was when we took the ball the last drive of the second quarter and took it down the field running and passing, and took the ball in for a touchdown,'' Hollis said.
''You could single out the slant that Pepe caught (for 26 yards), or the vertical Michael Wiley caught (for 31). But that whole drive - from an emotional standpoint or psychological standpoint - I don't know what it did for our football team, but it had to be all positive.''
Topped off by Pearson's 1-yard TD run with 54 seconds left, it capped a first half of domination by the Buckeyes.
When the defense held the Fighting Irish to a field goal at the end of a 63-yard drive to start the third quarter, the victory was in the works. It looked even more so when Jackson hit D.J. Jones on a 13-yard touchdown pass eight minutes later.
With 10:35 left in the game, the defense again stood up to a long Notre Dame drive. Powlus stood in against a blitz to hit Denson over the middle on fourth-and-11 from the OSU 26. But Denson was stopped 2 yards short of the first down by safety Damon Moore.
Just when it appeared the Buckeyes were going to put it away, Pearson - a play after a 38-yard run to the ND 37 - lost a fumble to the Irish's Ivory Covington. Notre Dame used a 42-yard catch and run by tight end Kevin Carretta to set up a 9-yard TD run by fullback Marc Edwards, his second of the game, and the Irish trailed just 29-16.
It stayed that way after nose guard Luke Fickell, who'd had an interception earlier, blocked the extra-point attempt. And after Ty Goode was called for grabbing Antoine Winfield's jersey on Denson's punt return, the score stayed 29-16 for posterity.
''We will celebrate tonight, no doubt,'' OSU tackle Orlando Pace said. ''But then we've got to go out and prepare for (third-ranked) Penn State next week.
''It's going to be a tough road ahead of us. We've just got to go out and keep playing like this.''